Coalition Calls on Congress to Rewrite FERPA

Photo credit: Rob Crawley (CC-By-2.0)

On Tuesday, American Principles Project and individuals from more than 100 organizations including Education Liberty Watch and Eagle Forum called on Congress to rewrite the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). In a letter to the House Education and Workforce Committee, they implored Congress to recognize that citizens have a property interest in their personal data and that Congress should protect that interest.

“Personal data collection without consent is an affront to freedom,” said Emmett McGroarty, senior fellow at American Principles Project and co-author of the new book, Deconstructing the Administrative State: The Fight for Liberty. “The federal government has no right or authority to vacuum up mountains of personal data on its citizens without their consent, with only the vague intent to “help” them or others make decisions. This is especially true for children.”

The APP-led coaltion submitted five recommendations for the FERPA rewrite:

  1. Do whatever is possible to decrease the amount of data collected on students, especially social-emotional learning (SEL) data. Collection of such data should be eliminated or at the very least a) not collected without informed opt-in parental consent and b) be treated as medical data.

  2. Treat whatever mental health, social emotional, or behavioral data collected for special-education evaluations or any other related program, such as Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports (PBIS) or Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS), as medical data that cannot be housed in longitudinal databases.

  3. Use aggregate rather than individual data to the greatest extent possible.

  4. Obtain parental consent if data collected for one purpose is to be repurposed or shared with another federal agency.

  5. Eliminate the current language in FERPA allowing predictive testing.

Read the letter below:

Disclosure: Our editor, Shane Vander Hart, is a signatory of this letter.

Submit Federal Education Privacy Comments by September 20 at 11:59p!

This is an important action item so I wanted to be sure people saw this. I highlighted Education Liberty Watch’s action alert on TAE social media, but I wanted to include it on our website for people dropping by our website who may have missed it.

Here is their whole post below. Be sure to leave a comment today (9/19) or tomorrow (9/20). Comment close on 9/20p at 11:59p (EDT). Also, if you use a MacBook, just know the form in Safari is wonky. I ended up having to use my iPhone. You may want to also try Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox if you use a MacBook.


We now have an opportunity to protect the privacy and minds of our children. We can submit comments in support of President Trump’s effort to scale back regulations, particularly in the U.S. Department of Education on several of these topics. All comments must be submitted by 11:59 PM on Wednesday, September 20th at this website:  https://www.regulations.gov/comment?D=ED-2017-OS-0074-0001.
 
Here are two big areas of “fed ed” regulations. There are more detailed comments below that you may add if you want to, but all you really need to do is to ask for 1) Withdrawal of all the FERPA regulatory changes made to 34 CFR, Part 99 that went into effect in January of 2012 and 2) Enforcement of the statutory prohibition on assessing “attitudes and beliefs” of a student or their family in ESSA’s state-mandated assessments or in the NAEP.
 
Thank you for what you can do and for your efforts to protect the hearts and minds of children!
 
Detailed Additional Information for Potential Comments
1) FERPA – Withdraw the regulatory changes to FERPA that went into effect in 2012. This would prevent USED, state agencies, and schools from disclosing personally identifiable information (PII) to literally anyone in the world, without parental consent or even notification, if the disclosing entity uses the correct language to justify the disclosure. Ask USED to:

Restore the longstanding, pre-2012 definitions and interpretations of an “authorized representative,” “education program,” and other terms.

Stop a state department of education or other agency that receives PII for other purposes from redisclosing that data to other entities, such as researchers, without parental consent.

Restore the audit exception so that the requirement (previously contained in 34 CFR §99.35(a)(2)) that in order for a state or local educational authority to conduct an audit, evaluation, or compliance or enforcement activity, it must demonstrate authority to do so under some federal, state, or local grant of authority.

2) Enforce the statutes prohibiting the assessment of “attitudes and beliefs” in surveys associated with ESSA’s mandated state tests and in the NAEP.
Such surveys (which are being administered without parental consent) violate one or both of the following:

ESSA [20 U.S.C. §6311(b)(2)(B)(iii)] requiring statewide assessments to “objectively measure academic achievement, knowledge, and skills, and be tests that do not evaluate or assess personal or family beliefs and attitudes or disclose personally identifiable information.” There is identical language in the Education Sciences Reform Act that covers the NAEP [20 USC §9622(b)(5)(A)]

PPRA [20 U.S.C. §1232h(b)(1-8)], which requires parental review and consent for surveys in federally funded education programs that ask about 8 sensitive items, including mental health, illegal or anti-social behavior; or sexual behavior or attitudes.

An Open Letter to House Education Leaders About Student Data Privacy

Photo credit: Rob Crawley (CC-By-2.0)

Karen Effrem, president of Education Liberty Watch wrote another fantastic open letter to the leadershiop of the U.S. House Education and the Workforce Committee. It was co-signed by representatives of nine national organizations and 62 state grassroots organizations covering 31 states expressing concern about student data privacy in the attempt to reauthorize the Education Sciences Reform Act (ESRA).

Note: I signed the letter on behalf of Iowa RestorED. Truth in American Education generally does not sign on to letters like these primarily because we are made-up of representatives of other groups, but we do share the same concerns.

Activists Challenge Plan for NAEP to Assess Student “Mindsets”

privacyThe National Assessment Governing Board (NAGB) that governs the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) has announced it will expand beyond assessing students’ academic content knowledge to also include subjective, non-cognitive, socioemotional parameters. Such factors will include “grit,” “desire for learning,” and “school climate.” Assessing “mindsets” of students potentially will allow the government to determine and possibly reshape children’s moral and religious beliefs about controversial social issues.

American Principles Project, Eagle Forum and Education Liberty Watch along with five additional national organizations, as well as, 69 state organizations in 29 states have joined Liberty Counsel to object what they see as illegal changes to the NAEP. (Disclosure: This author is among those who have joined Liberty Counsel.)

As Liberty Counsel demonstrates in its letter to three congressional committees, if these factors are assessed as part of the NAEP test itself, their inclusion violates federal law prohibiting assessment of “personal or family beliefs and attitudes” via 20 USC section 9622. If they are instead part of the background survey given to students, their inclusion violates the Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment, 20 USC section 1232(h), which requires that such material be made available for parental inspection before administration.

Liberty Counsel attorney Richard Mast, author of the letter, wrote in part:

The NAEP is poised to violate federal law by collecting extremely sensitive psychological/socioemotional data on children; it will do so in a necessarily subjective manner;  it contains a substantial risk of exposing the subject children to possible negative consequences in their later schooling and employment careers, to the extent that even supporters of such assessments are concerned; and it will entrust extremely sensitive data to agencies that are no longer governed by serious privacy law and that have proven they cannot or will not keep personal student data secure.

These proposed changes constitute potential parental rights violations, and expose the children to a litany of harms in the present and in the future. Thus, any efforts to ask questions concerning mindsets and other socioemotional parameters and to collect that data via the NAEP should be halted immediately.

“We believe, along with Liberty Counsel and other signatories, that this expansion of NAEP will not only violate federal law but also possibly expose students to negative consequences of having their most sensitive personal information – subjectively determined – collected and maintained in unsecured government databases. Even without federal statutes prohibiting such action, this overreach would invade parental sovereignty over the education and moral direction of children,” Jane Robbins of American Principles Project said in a released statement.

“American Principles Project urges Congress to protect children by halting this illegal expansion of NAEP,” Robbins added.

“We are extremely pleased and thankful that Liberty Counsel and so many organizations around the country have joined this important national fight for student data and psychological privacy,” Dr. Karen Effrem, president of Education Liberty Watch and executive director of the Florida Stop Common Core Coalition, said in a released statement. “Congress must do its due diligence and properly exercise its oversight authority to stop these obvious statutory and constitutional violations and this continued federal overreach before the privacy and futures of our students are further harmed. We urge our members to help educate their members of Congress about this issue and to be sure to opt their children out of this very invasive test.”

Written Testimony on the Common Core & Next Generation Sunshine State Standards

Karen Effrem, MD the President of Education Liberty Watch and co-founder of the Florida Stop Common Core Coalition submitted written testimony on the Common Core State Standards and Florida’s Next Generation Sunshine State Standards in English Language Arts and Mathematics.  I’m embedding her testimony below or you can read/download it here:

Minnesota House Advances Legislative Oversight of Education Standards to Dayton’s Desk

I wrote last month about the Minnesota Legislature’s fight against the federal takeover of education being cheered on by Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton.  The Minnesota Senate passed Senate File 1656 which required legislative approval before any education standard could be implemented by the Minnesota Department of Education.  It was authored by State Senator Carla Nelson (R-Rochester) and State Representative Sondra Erickson (R-Princeton) and passed the Senate with bipartisan support.

Education Liberty Watch reported that this legislation is important not only to prevent the Common Core State Standards, but also in order to attempt to fix the “absolutely awful revision” of Minnesota’s social studies standards.  The good news is that the Minnesota House also passed SF 1656 on a partisan vote (71-61) on Monday.  The bad news is that it is likely that Governor Dayton will veto this bill again unless he has enough Minnesotans applying pressure.

Minnesota Legislature Fights Against Dayton Administration and Federal Takeover of Education

mnstatecapitolWhile I’m concerned about the online education mandate that the Minnesota Legislature is debating, there is good news on the education front in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.   The Minnesota Senate last month passed Senate File 1656 which requires legislative approval before any academic standards can be implemented.  Education Liberty Watch reports that the Minnesota House Education Reform Committee passed the companion to the Senate bill.

They write:

The House bill authored by Rep. Sondra Erickson (R-Princeton), chairwoman of the House Education Reform Committee, simply requires that there be approval by the people’s representatives in the legislature before the state department of education would adopt future Common Core Standards such as happened with the English language arts standards under the Pawlenty administration or the wholesale rewriting that is producing the very revisionist social studies standards being put in place by the Dayton administration. That bill passed the committee essentially on a party line voice vote (audio available here starting at about 27:28 with Dr. Effrem’s testimony at about 1:07 A written version of her similar recent Senate testimony is available here).

They also note a companion bills introduced in the House and Senate which would push back against the Obama Administration’s requirement that a state adopts the Common Core State Standards in order to receive a No Child Left Behind waiver.

The other big development is the introduction of a bill, HF 2905 by Representative Bob Barrett (R-Schafer), and SF 2928 by Senators Sean Nienow (R-Cambridge) and David Hann (R-Eden Prairie), to require the commissioner of education to seek Minnesota’s own waiver to No Child Left Behind based on the state’s needs and laws. This would be in place of the illegal, unconstitutional, conditional and temporary waiver that Minnesota received from the Obama administration, one that among its other problems, in essence requires the Common Core Standards. This bill enjoyed wide bipartisan support during the 2008 legislative session when the Democrats were in control of the legislature and passed the House floor unanimously as an amendment by Rep. Carolyn Laine (DFL- Columbia Heights) to the education finance omnibus bill. Sadly, it was removed from the omnibus bill after a veto threat by then Governor Tim Pawlenty.

We’ll watch to see how this progresses in the Minnesota House where it will likely face another veto by Governor Mark Dayton as he vetoed a similar bill last year when it was part of a omnibus education finance bill.